Five years ago, artist Chad Fonfara unexpectedly began working with the glass medium when he accepted a position to teach sculpture at the University of Nebraska Kearney. Initially trained in wood, clay, and bronze, he quickly returned to a deep interest in the crafting of organic structures through blown glass. What has emerged are flora or fauna-esque ‘vessels’ that appear to be growing or breathing, hanging from walls or armatures, pod-like and teeming with life. Fonfara brings this latest body of work to the Museum of Nebraska’s Art’s Yanney Skylight Gallery for his first solo exhibition in Nebraska.
As the son of a carpenter and woodworker, Fonfara was taught early on the lessons of beauty and craftsmanship. This background, coupled with a draw toward nature, caused his artistic endeavors to focus on the organic. After schooling, Fonfara spent a period of time in the northern woods of Minnesota working as a house carpenter. While there, his free moments were focused on sculpting, drawing, and reading. Years later, his acceptance of a teaching position at UNK confronted him with the challenge of working with glass.
As most students of glass, he began with making traditional utilitarian forms: bowls, cups, cylinders, and vases. Once past the basic tenets of glassblowing, Fonfara returned to what initially kept him “interested in sculpture for so long: the mix of intuition, anxiety, and thrill that comes from the making without fully knowing.” He began to make glass sculptures that were not so refined, in the conventional and formal sense, but instead elegant and reflective of nature while containing an otherworldliness. In the work Converse from the Cases and Remains series, similar to the forms in this exhibition, two pods of unknown origin hang from a white ‘branch.’ The forms are opaque and their color alternates between bold and tempered uses of blue infused with flecks and patches of brown, yellow, and green – mirroring the earth and sky and living things. They are reminiscent of large chrysalis as if birthed and/or grown with blue lines atop possibly signifying ‘stretch’ marks or development rings. Something is ready to emerge. While they are akin to a cocoon, they are not replications, but instead investigations into life forms that span the gap between flora, fauna, alien, or myth. As Fonfara states, they are “simultaneously entomological, ornithological, botanical, and anatomical; their origins, function, and connotations are bound only by the imagination and interpretation of the viewer (and maker alike).”
In 1996, Chad Fonfara received a Bachelor of Fine Art degree from the University of Nebraska Kearney (UNK). Seven years later, he earned a Master of Fine Art from Kansas State University, Manhattan. Since accepting the position to teach sculpture and glassblowing at UNK in 2006, he has studied at both the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York (2010 and 2011) and Pilchuck Glass School (2010). Various exhibitions include those at Strecker-Nelson Gallery, Manhattan, Kansas; Moss-Thorns Gallery of Art, Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas; and the Smoky Hill Art Competition & Exhibition, Salina, Kansas. Recent awards include a 2010 Corning Museum of Glass scholarship to study with William Gudenrath in the workshop An In Depth Study in Venetian Techniques.
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